4 and 29

Dry weather.  Finally.  Dry weather means that I don’t stay dry.. I sweat.

I have been on the mountain bike four days in a row.  Four.  Three of those days were on my “old” 26, which felt like riding a slug after being spoiled by my dual suspension 29.  Oddly enough, by last night I was beginning to feel real good on the 26 despite spending way too much time holding the pedals up due to clearance.  The 29 has me spoiled.  When the shop called this afternoon, right after my boss and I were getting back on the interstate following lunch with a client, to tell me that my bike was ready, I was ecstatic.  My boss encouraged me to stop on the way back to the office to pick the bike up.  I think he liked the excuse to check out the bike store that I frequent.  Pedal and Spoke is my Cheers.. everybody knows my name.

Don’t think I have shirked my duties (that sounds dirty) with all this bike riding.  Not eye.  I mowed the lawn before zooming out to the mountain bike trails.

it felt so so so so so so freaking good to ride the 29 again tonight.  I rolled out onto the trail fast, my legs and body already warm from mowing the lawn as well as riding for consecutive days.  Even so, routine took me on my warm up route, dispatched quickly as I was hitting on all cylinders from the excitement of being back on my favorite ride.  As I finished my warm up, I bumped (not literally) into my friend, Dan, who was heading out towards the trails at the back of the park.  He asked if I wanted to join him, something I agreed to immediately.  Dan has an upgraded version of my bike, is close to me in ability, and it’s always good to ride with someone else.  It keeps me honest and motivated.  Usually I ride faster from necessity.  The only negative is that Dan takes a lot more breaks than I do.  I usually don’t stop for a break until I have covered most of the trails in the small park (8 miles of trails).  Dan stops frequently.  That was OK.  It was a good night for an easy ride.  Besides, it was 91 degrees and very humid.. typical Illinois summer weather.

I suppose I should feel fried.  Oddly, I’m not.  In a few minutes, I will sleep the slumber of the pleasantly relaxed, a rest aided by having a quiet house.

Oh, and the report I get from Alyssa is that Nate is having a very good time.  :)

Risky Business

It took me an extra few minutes to start writing tonight.  James Brown told me to get up offa that thing, shake it you’ll feel better.  When the godfather tells me to do something, I just have to.

My head is still bobbing.. as well as my thing.

There were no kids or anyone else here to witness me getting up offa that thing, just Nick the sheltie and Chester the happy orange cat.  Neither felt obligated to join me in my reverie.  Both children are out of the house this week, one a counselor at a camp in Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) and the other a camper at that same camp.  It’s teen camp this week.

James is now telling me to get on up and stay on the scene like a sex machine.

That probably ain’t happenin’ this week.  Empty house should mean that the parents should whoop it up, run the house naked and take advantage of that alone time.  Wouldn’t you think that a woman whose husband told her nearly eight weeks ago that he wants a divorce, that woman asking for more time and try to work things out,… would be doing everything she can to woo him and convince him to stay?  Maybe she would be dancing like a sex machine in front of him right now?

Nope.  Five minutes after we got home she headed over to her sister’s house.  With no one to keep me home, I loaded up the mountain bike and hit the trails for an hour.

I came up and scrubbed the bathtub in my birthday suit, Chicago’s “Mississippi Delta City Blues” blaring on the Bluetooth speaker in the bathroom, followed by my favorite most ever ever song, Salvador’s “Lord I Come Before You” next.  I will send a candy bar to anyone who honestly can say they know that song… a Baby Ruth even.  Nothing better than some good horn bands rocking the shower.

You all think I am weird, don’t you?

I admit it.

I’m not.

This is Alyssa’s last week as a camp counselor for the summer.  Teen camp.  High school age kids.  It will probably be her toughest week.  It doesn’t help that her 16 year old brother is attending, a brother who really doesn’t want to be there.  She wants him there, did everything she could to coax him into going to camp this week.  Yesterday morning, I drove to the camp and picked her up so she get a break before her last week of camp.  Alyssa wanted to sleep in her own bed last night, in air conditioning.

Air conditioning is a treat to a summer camp counselor.  So is a comfortable bed with a fluffy mattress and soft pillows.. in a quiet bedroom.  I laughed this afternoon as I waited next to the main entrance at the Lake Geneva Target, while Nate and Miriam shopped.  Two young guys walked in from the parking lot and exclaimed “Ohhhhhh, that feels soooooo goooooood!”.  I remember those days, when I was a camp counselor, how even a few minutes of cold air conditioning was an exquisite treat.

Alyssa wanted to come home to see her cousin Carly, who works with a rescue mission in Nepal called Tiny Hands.  Carly is on a brief furlough, visiting Chicago and working with volunteers in the Chicago area to prepare them to come over to Nepal.  Alyssa also wanted to come home to convince her brother to get up offa his thing, his Minecraft playing thing, and have some fun.

It worked.  Sort of.  He said no, but Alyssa packed for him last night, helped us drag him out of bed and into the car for the drive to camp.  Mir fought with him last night about it.  She had registered him already, without letting me know about it..for some reason.. probably because I would have questioned it.  Nate has a history of bailing on things like camp or trips, his most recent incident this past June when I had to drive five hours one night to rescue him from a high school golf team trip.  He supposedly was sick, but he begged me to stop to eat on the way home, so I knew better.  He doesn’t do well when he feels like he doesn’t fit in.  A few months ago, we had to go find him when he walked away from a church youth group overnight.

So I had my concerns.  I wanted him to go, but I also did not feel comfortable forcing him to go.

We spent two hours wrestling with him when we got to camp.  He insisted he didn’t want to go.  I was tempted to pull his gear out of the car’s trunk, throw a protesting Mir inside the trunk, and leave him behind at camp in a cloud of dust.  That wouldn’t work.  A part of me really wanted him to go to camp, a part of my life that I still treasure.  I went to camp every summer, sometimes twice in a summer, starting when I was 10 years old.  I was a counselor in college as well as a camp dean/administrator during my years as a youth minister.  Alyssa loves camp just like I do.  But Nate is different.  There is a lot of fear in him and also, well, ummm, it’s church camp.  He really isn’t into church or church youth groups.

Eventually I just left Mir and Nate to work things out.  Sometimes that is the best thing that I can do.  After a while, they both decided that we would leave.  So we left.  Drove away.

“You sure you don’t want me to turn around and go back? You might regret it later if you don’t go.”  I offered a few miles down the road.  On cue, Alyssa texted Mir to remind her that we had not given her the shampoo and comb that we had bought for her at Target.  We HAD to turn around.

When we got back to the camp, I walked the supplies to Alyssa.

Nate and Miriam were not in the car.  I walked down to the registration hall.  They were finishing up registration.

I am crossing my fingers and praying.

Just wait until he discovers that he forgot to pack his phone charger….

What’s That You Say, Young Man?

Sunday morning’s light pried my eyes open with a bit of reluctance, urging me to get out of bed and smell the bacon.  My body gave that little bit of hesitance to getting up, a bit like a car engine at first crank on a frigid winter morning, bones and muscles a little sore from the punishment I imposed on myself the evening before.  I rolled out of bed any way, the soreness working itself out as I took the short walk inside the cabin to the shower.  What fog existed in my head disappeared as the hot water soaked my head and soothed my bones.  Ahhhhhhhhh.

Thank goodness for hot water and Irish Spring.  I emerged from the shower feeling as good as new, the only other requirement to prepare me for the rest of the day the necessary caffeine rush.

Saturday afternoon/evening was a literal thrill ride.  My son, Nate, and I rented jet skis, running them full throttle for close to two hours on Lake Michigan, chased off of the lake by a fast moving thunderstorm.  We flew over the waves, blurs hidden amidst tall sprays of water.  The ride was punishing, the wake beating on my legs as the boat I was driving hit the water at full speed.  At one point I jumped a wave at full speed but sideways, the force bucking me off of the jet ski to drive me deep into the water.

Thank good for hot water, Irish Spring, and life vests.  That was the strangest feeling looking up through deep water.  All my body parts were intact, although I did not think to check certain vital parts (they are still there).

Nate’s heavy breathing from his cabin bunk told me he was still in a deep sleep as I pulled my cargo shorts and tshirt on, slipped my flip flops under my feet, then took a step outside the cabin door to hear the sweet chirps of greeting from the woods around the cabin.  Except for a pleasant soreness in my thighs, something I am accustomed to from riding bicycles, I felt very good.  I walked across the campground to my parents’ trailer, where my brothers and their families would gather for breakfast and coffee.

I had finished my second cup of coffee when the trailer door opened slowly and a groaning teenager entered.

“Dad, I can barely walk.  My thighs are so sore.”

You would think that I could not pass up the opportunity to remind my son that his 54 year old father felt real good.  My 72 year old mother jumped right on this one.

“What’s that you say, young man?  I haven’t heard a single complaint from your old dad.  Must be all that bicycling that he does.”

I just sat sipping my coffee with a big smirk on my face.

Weekend With The Henry Clan

Tyler 2015

There are few miracles of science that are more precious to me than the little boy in that picture.  That little boy is Tyler, the son of my youngest brother Paul and his wife Melissa (seated behind Tyler).  “T” is an invitro baby.  Every time I see him I catch a lot of sunshine from my five year old nephew, the innocence and enthusiasm so uplifting.  I look at him and see his father, eight years younger, and I remember enough about Paul when he was Tyler’s age to appreciate the boy even more.

This weekend was the annual get together for my family.  Mom organizes a trip every year, usually within a few hours of us all — the Wisconsin Dells, Gatlinburg and the Smokies, the Elroy/Sparta trail around Tomah (Wisconsin) — a way to celebrate the June birthdays of all three of her boys.  I am the oldest, with Mark a year behind me, and Paul eight years younger.  This year we returned to South Haven, Michigan along the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan.  Two years ago we went there and enjoyed the beaches there, as well as picking blueberries and riding bikes.  The last time we went, Mom had to leave early as she was sick, so we were glad to be able to go again.  Mom reserved three cabins at the KOA in Covert for us, close to where she and Dad parked their camping trailer.  We all meet at the trailer to eat our meals, sit around the campfire to catch up.

My niece, Anna, another miracle of sorts as she is the adopted daughter of my brother and his wife, Mel (Imelda — she is from the Philippines), latches on to me as soon as I arrive.  She is 7 years old and has a bit of a crush on her uncle Steve, something that can get a little embarrassing at times as she is always trying to hold my hand, doing little things to get my attention.   Anna is also from the Philippines, adopted from an orphanage there.  She and Tyler tooks turns last night roasting marshmallows over the fire and feeding them to their uncle Steve.  I gave them each little lessons on marshmallow roasting technique, so they were constantly shoving the roasting stick in my face with a gooey marshmallow for my inspection.  To their credit, they learned very well.

Nate and I played catch with a baseball last night, something that both Anna and Tyler loved to watch.  Eventually they joined in, taking turns throwing the ball to Nate and I.  I was very proud of my son as he showed Tyler how to throw a baseball.  Nate has always had a quite a bit of a coach in him, even when he was a player, and he teaches very well.  Tyler was able to throw the ball a lot better after Nate showed him a few things.  Watching the faces of his parents showed me a lot.  They really appreciated watching Nate teach their son.

Nate and I had a good weekend together.  Miriam also went along, something that a few weeks ago she said she wasn’t going to do considering the status of our relationship.  But she decided that she should go, did very well with my family.  Nate and I fished together Friday night and yesterday, while Miriam watched.  We decided to splurge a little and rented jet skis for Nate and I yesterday afternoon.  The guys who rented them made an exception for Nate, noting that he really was supposed to be 18 to rent a jet ski but since he is a big kid (around 6’2″ tall now), no one would question us.

The skies clouded up over Lake Michigan as Nate and I tooled slowly up the Black River in South Haven towards the lake.  We had the machines for two hours, but from the looks of the clouds we were going to be lucky to get an hour in.  Once we cleared the pier and got on the lake, we cautiously opened the throttles up on our jet skis, bouncing over the wakes of the boats as they came in off of the lake.  It didn’t take long before we were whooping it up as we caught air over the waves, learning to cut sharp turns at full speed.  I love mountain biking, but I think I found a new favorite thing to do.  We had an absolute blast!  Of course, I was the one who managed to get thrown from my jet ski, flying sideways as I jumped a wave.  Nate laughed as he pulled up to make sure I was OK.  As I swam back to my jet ski and climbed back on, Nate pointed out the lightning from the ominous clouds approaching quickly from the west.  We hightailed it back to the pier area, took a few more turns out on the lake, then headed back up the channel to turn the jet skis back in to the rental.  As we drove our boats back to the marina, I noticed people along the shore looking behind us and taking pictures with their cell phones.  I looked behind to see some very nasty looking clouds behind us.  As we drove our jet skis onto the trailer, the skies opened up into a downpour.  We made it back just in time.

Nate told me that the jet skis is one of the best things that we have done together.  That was great to hear.

We all gathered for breakfast this morning at Mom and Dad’s trailer.  That’s me next to Tyler, holding the coffee and plate in the picture.  As we always do for our family get togethers, one of us gives a little devotion and Bible reading during our Sunday morning breakfast, then we have prayer together.  Mom gave the prayer this morning, her voice quavering with emotion as she prayed.  I think she is afraid that she may not have much more time left in this world, so she gets emotional when she is around us, plus she was worried since Mir and I did not sit or stand next to each other the whole weekend.  Mom is 72 years old, not old by most standards, but she is older than both of her parents were when they died plus she has outlived her younger sister and brother.

Nate drove the car a little on the way home, the first time I have let him drive in major traffic at highway speeds.  He did fairly well.  We stopped for lunch, then he let me take over, both he and Miriam took naps as I drove us home.

Time for bed for me.  Tomorrow the large old ash tree in our front yard comes down, something I do not want to see.  It was shorter than our house when we moved in, now it towers over the house.  When the kids were young, I hung a swing from one of its limbs, and that swing has been very popular for the children who pass by in front of our house.  I also watched several of Alyssa’s boyfriends push her on that swing.

Good night!

Welcome Back, Mister Blue Sky

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Much better.  Better than “Waaaaaaaaaaa” which has been my literal cry for the last month and a half due to all of the rain we have had in the Chicago area.  As a road cyclist who wants to be a mountain biker, rain is not my friend.  Contrary to what one might think, riding mud is NOT fun nor is it recommended.  Trail advocates will slap riders who ride muddy trails, thus damaging trails and contributing to erosion.  Erosion damages trails even further.

Riders around here blame the weather on me.  Yep.  I bought that fancy mountain bike in the middle of April, ensuring a season of wet and mud.

My theme today, though, is Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky” — so appropriate for today.  After so many weeks where every tiny puff of cloud poured on us, we (meaning “us in the Chicago area”) not only have escaped major rains from the storm systems that have passed over the past few days, but today is 72 degrees with blue azure skies.

And who can feel dark when listening to Mr. Blue Sky?  I can’t.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!

The report from yesterday was that the trails would be dry enough by today to ride.  In another hour or two, if the work load stays light, I am going to find out this afternoon.  I can not freaking wait.  Last time I rode the mountain bike was last Saturday morning (a bird chirper at dawn).  The trails were a bit damp then.

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Redbird also returned to me today after another kidnapping.  He disappeared from my office some time last week while I was out of town.  The kidnappers texted threatening messages to me last Monday night, vowing to imprison Redbird in a tampon machine if I did not agree to their ransom.  They apparently also subjected him to hard office labor, something I know he is not used to when being kidnapped.  Previous kidnappers tried to brainwash him by treating him to beauty queens, bikini clad babes, booze in New Orleans, baseball in Oakland.  But wily Redbird managed to escape today by stealing away in a Jimmy John’s delivery, making sure I got a fresh roast beef sandwich and chocolate chip cookie in the deal.  Suh weet!

It is indeed a blue sky type of day.  I’ll let you know how the ride goes.  I have a text message in to Nate, asking if he wants to abandon his summer video gaming long enough to brave the trails with me….

Everyone Has A Harry

A few weeks ago my father, ever diligent to watch the obituaries in his small town way, sent one of his weekly email announcements to my brothers and I.  In typical fashion, we got the same announcement from my mother, prefaced with “your dad probably already told you this”.  Any time someone from our family’s past or present is in the hospital, dies, or does something significant, my parents follow the same email procedure.  My brothers and I laugh.  Mom is likely sending her email while sitting with her iPad in her living room easy chair.  Dad is a few feet down the hall in the study, coffee next to him and their dog at his feet.  They could easily check with each other, but somehow it’s not important that they don’t.  That’s all part of their magic.

Dad’s email was to advise us of the obit for Harry Critcheloe, our next door neighbor from the time I was 9 years old until my parents moved when I was in my mid-twenties.  If it’s possible to dance on someone’s grave in an email, that is what my father was doing, very odd for my usually compassionate and caring for all humanity father.  When Mom sent her email a few minutes later, she was not too broken up herself.

We figured Harry was too mean to die young.  Both parents said that.  Cancer got him, they both reported.

Harry was one mean, obnoxious, terrible man to have as a neighbor, especially for reasonably well behaved boys like my brothers and myself.  Believe that one.  We were good boys, a necessity in a small town since everyone knew everyone’s business, talked about it out in front of the church on Sunday (not IN the church, God forbid).  Fences were a rarity, definitely not really needed as we all knew each other, looked out for each other, sought to come closer to each other instead of shutting out our neighbors with the barrier a fence could be.  Our neighbor did everything he could to try to provoke the bad out of me especially, the oldest of three boys, as well as my brothers.  He scowled and cussed at me every time I walked out our front door, calling me a fag or homo or any other assortment of insults that I did not understand.  When he did it, an evil grin replaced the scowl, his intent was to make me cry, to destroy the strong boy that I am sure he hated because of whatever lurked in his own past.

My parents gathered us to pray after Sunday dinner nearly every week, not just for Harry but also that we would stand strong in our witness, not react in a way that betrayed our Christian values.  I am not sure Harry was aware that instead of tearing us down, he was teaching us to be strong in a different sort of way, a spiritual and a human way.

Dad says that Harry’s feud started when Dad was building our house.  I spent a lot of time there helping Dad, noticed Harry sitting outside watching us work.  In the years to come, Harry was always outside doing something in his garage, where he kept a weight set and worked out.  His lawn was a precious possession to him, a refuge that should never be crossed.. nor did Harry every leave it except for his early morning jog.  When Dad used a tractor and rake to prepare our yard when the house was near finished, he accidentally swung the rake into Harry’s yard, the only time that Harry crossed the line into our yard, furious with my father.  No matter how hard Dad tried to apologize, Harry refused to bend, cursing him for weeks afterwards.

That was 45 years ago.  That memory has little haze.  I still remember the hate in Harry’s eyes, the bewilderment in my father’s eyes.  Dad had a temper, but it wasn’t evident then.

I remember the day when my friends were over to play baseball in our large back yard.  We always used a hollow rubber ball, called a “Peewee Ball”, hit it with a wiffle ball bat and caught with our bare hands.  Harry sat on his back porch and, when the ball landed in his yard, ran out to take it, refused to give it back to us.  Mom saw it happen, confronted him, endured the B word and many others, left in tears without the ball.  She called the police, who were incredulous at the way Harry acted.  He refused to give the ball to them, saying that we were telling a lie — the ball was his, not ours.

Soon afterward, Harry posted five NO TRESPASSING signs facing our yard, four on posts and one nailed to the side of the garage.  One of the funniest times I ever had with my mother was the night she and I dressed in black, including stocking caps, stole over to Harry’s yard in the middle of the night and painted over those signs with thick black paint.  Mom was laughing like a kid the entire time.  Harry never said a word, replaced the signs shortly after we painted them.

Our next midnight mission was to pull them up, then toss them on his front porch.  He replaced the posts with longer ones.

Next we knocked all of them from the post with an aluminum baseball bat (Mom has a very good swing).  Harry found a way to keep that from happening again.  So my Grandpa asked me to help him take down that old wood fence he had in his back yard.  We used the wood from that fence to build a barrier along the lot line, obscuring Harry and his signs.  If Harry was going to harass us, he had to do it from the street in front of our house.  He did.  Often.  Any neighbors who doubted our stories about how Harry had berated my brothers and I no longer had those doubts.  They witnessed him spitting insults at us as we played basketball in our own driveway or washed a car or mowed the front lawn.

Harry attended our church now and then with his wife and two daughters.  He didn’t attend often.  His practice was to sit across from my family in the church auditorium, arms crossed, staring at us.  Our preacher saw that, talked to us about it, visited him and asked him to stop.  I am pretty sure his wife was the reason why, from then on, he sat in the back corner of the back church pew, left out the back doors before the last hymn was finished.

The last memory I have of Harry Critcheloe is perhaps the worst confrontation that occurred between us.  I was 19 years old, in my second year of Bible college, and was loading the trunk of my car early in the morning to go back to school after Christmas break.  Harry was an early morning jogger, a very good runner as a matter of fact, and he stopped a few feet behind me as I finished loading the car trunk.  Mom was watching through the front door, waiting to say goodbye to me before I left.

I don’t remember a whole lot of what he said.  He called my mother a whore and several other select names, me a faggot preacher boy as he aggressively stood within inches of my face, his chest pressed against mine.

He hocked up and spit in my face.

“Go ahead, cry faggot preacher boy.  You’re not man enough to fight me.”

Those years of praying looked to be paying off at that moment.  I didn’t move.  Didn’t wipe his thick spit from my face.  I wanted to cry.  I knew if I said something, it would not be good.  I could hear my mother screaming for my father from the front porch.  Our neighbor from across the street came running out of his front door as Harry spit in my face again, stepped back, and swung at me.  I dodged the punch, pushing Harry face first into the gravel as he lunged past me, my knee in his back as I pulled his head back by his hair.  There was blood pouring from his nose, his mouth bloody.

All I could think to say was “I forgive you”.. and I screamed it, Harry’s thick mucus dripping from my face.  Mom and Dad came out and pulled me off of Harry, a towel in her hand while she wiped my face and hugged me.  Dad and our neighbor dragged Harry away as he yelled “Did you see that?  I’m calling the police!”.  Both men encouraged him to do that.

Everyone has a Harry in their life, I think.  Oddly enough, I am glad I did.  I learned a lot from that man.  While I still don’t have it completely right, I learned a lot about people from Harry.. and how to react to them from what my parents taught me in the way they dealt with him.  Not once did they react to him in anger.  They prayed for him.  They knew that the hate he had for us was really for someone else, not us.  We all need to be able to look at people that way.

Rabid

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There is nothing better than baseball, except maybe if it is Cardinals versus Cubs baseball.  Last week started off the right way.  Thanks to several donations in the form of a Father’s day gift, I was able to get the best seats I have ever had for a professional baseball game — 7 rows from the third base dugout at Wrigley.  Heaven.

Let me say right now that I have one of those voices that carries about three city blocks with very little effort.

My 16 year old son, thanks to young players like Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, has discovered the joy of MLB baseball.  Yes, he is a misguided Cubs fan, but he rarely misses a game.  We have something in common now, a reason to spend more time together, and he also has to suck up to me if he wants to go into Chicago for a game.  I now have leverage.

Nate and I went to the game, got there early enough to see pregame warmups, watched Anthony Rizzo being interviewed in his brand spanking new Allstar jersey.  He and Bryant had just been announced to the Allstar roster.  We watched Starlin Castro trot out to the left field batting cages with Manny Ramirez.  The usher got a kick out of seeing Nate and I, son and father, decked out in opposing jerseys.  I was in my Cardinal red, Nate in his new Bryant jersey.  The usher laughed as he talked to us and took the picture I used for this blog.

Cub fans can be very pitiful fans, by the way.  This year they are a bit better, likely due to having a team worth rooting for.  But by the sixth inning the fans started acting like Cub fans, booing when the Cardinal pitcher threw over to first base for a pick off attempt.

“Do it again!”  I actually got a few laughs with that one.  The pitcher threw over again, the Cub fans booed, and I again encouraged him to do it again.  Nate just stared straight ahead.

We almost witnessed a no hitter.  Jon Lester took a no hitter into the seventh inning, when Peralta of the Cardinals nailed a hot grounder to Kris Bryant at third, who tried to back hand the ball.  The official scorekeeper ruled it a hit.  I stood up and cheered loudly, high fived the only Cardinal fan in the near vicinity.  Cub fans glared at us.  The next ball was another grounder to third.  Bryant fielded it cleanly, then promptly fired the ball into right field.

“Way to go.  Nice play, ALL STAR!!!!”  Bryant actually turned in my direction.  A burly Cub fan scowled at me.  “Don’t disrespect us in our house.  You don’t live here.  Go back to Busch.”

I looked at Nate.  He had a smirk on his face.  That inning the Cardinals scored two runs.  I was having a great time, a Cardinal fan on his feet in a section full of Cub fans.. all with their head in their hands.

The sky emptied on us in the middle of the eighth inning.  We called it a night then.  It was a good night.  It didn’t hurt that the Cardinals won 6-0.

Raised

Snapshot_20150712_1I have a new somethinerother bracelet, not really my thing, but nonetheless it will be for a while now.  Why?

Because my favorite girl made it just for me.

Dads around the world know what I am talking about when I say that the most precious fashion in our wardrobe comes from that which is most precious.  Alyssa is 19 years old, but she still likes to make little things for me.  Over the years I have many little braided baubles that came from my daughter’s creative hands.  Most I have worn as much as possible, not just so my little girl can see that I am wearing her gift to me, but because it really is a gift to me and for me, presented with sweetness by my jewel.

Today I am wearing my heart on my sleeve, literally.  Alyssa has been away for the last month and a half, working as a live in cabin counselor at the camp she went to as a girl.  She is a young woman now, just to clarify.  Yesterday I drove the hour and a half with Miriam and Nate to see Alyssa at camp,  I won’t say anything about the drive except that it made me even more happy to see Alyssa.  I burst out of the car as she ran up to us, wrapped her in a big hug, kissed my little girl on the cheek.  After she greeted Miriam and Nate, she led Miriam and I to show her cabin to us.

I made this for you, dad.  Does it fit?” Alyssa beamed as she handed me the bracelet.  I put it on my left wrist, a perfect fit.

Alyssa July 2015 KidsAlyssa was dead tired, a feeling that I remember quite well, the recognition both pleasant and dreaded from my own experience.  My daughter is doing what I did some 30 years ago.  She invests everything into the time she has with the children at camp, passionately, because she truly loves what she is doing.  The years I was able to be a camp counselor and camp dean were some of the best years of my life.  Listening to my daughter tell about the last few weeks, I can see that Alyssa is going to feel the same way when she is my age.  Seeing her excitement was just as much of a gift as the bracelet that she had just given me — because I felt that same excitement and it is so good to see that in her.

Alyssa told us story after story of little funny things her girls had said or did, her cheeks stuck in a grin as she told us.  Little things, really, but precious to her.

The kids love her.  It is so obvious.  Her girls cheered in celebration as she won the counselors’ beauty contest and devoured the cupcakes in the eating competition.  They cling to her, eat up the attention that she so easily gives to them.Alyssa July 2015

Can anyone tell how proud I am of her?

Alyssa is MY daughter, as my mother commented on some of the pictures that Alyssa posted on Facebook.  It’s true.  A ham.  An all in type.  She is me, but she is also unique in the way she expresses herself.  I hope she has a daughter just like her, one who brings joy to her, who brings the same kind of honor to her father.

Daughters raise up their father, lift them up.

Maybe that is why God gave me a daughter.  I need that.  I need to be feel like I am that special man that no other man will ever be — her father.  She looks at me with that twinkle that only a daughter has for her father, knows I am not perfect but it doesn’t matter because the good she knows about me far exceeds the imperfection.

When it was time to go, Alyssa asked me to walk her to her cabin.  She told me she loves me, gave me a big hug, and I wept as walked the 400 yards back to the car.  I miss her already.

Here are just a few more recent pictures from her camp counseling experiences:

Alyssa July 2015 Beard

Yes, that beard is her own hair!

Alyssa July 2015Kate

She was able to be a counselor with her childhood best friend, Kate, last week.

Alyssa July 2015 Contest

Her boyfriend, Caleb, drove 7 hours to visit her last weekend.

Her boyfriend, Caleb, drove 7 hours to visit her last weekend.

Pods and Pessimism

It’s been a bit since my last blog, it’s almost the end of June, and well, it makes sense to simply write a blog that summarizes my month.  After all, this blog really has been more of a personal blog than anything else.

And it has indeed has been a significant month for me, I suppose.

June 1 was my birthday.  It always is.  I feel a little older this year, maybe because I am playing on a softball team again this year.  Last year, I didn’t play at all, the first summer in a long long long long LONG time that I haven’t swung a bat.  Last year was a transition year for me, a year where life changed simply because a job of almost 25 years ended most dramatically.  Maybe it makes sense that baseball changed also.  I had to be happy with being a fan.  And that year off of playing the game was not good for me, especially since I am 54 years old now.  Normally an exceptional hitter (seriously), my groove didn’t appear much at all at the plate during the months of May and June (although my glove was still very good except for a game or two).  But just as I was feeling older, this past Thursday’s game found me hitting the ball on a line and where I wanted it to go, to the tune of a 4 for 4 night at the plate.  Throws to first base had that old zing.  Just as I was thinking I need to toss it in, the old Steve showed up (maybe that wasn’t the best way to say it).

This June has been a month of constant precipitation in Chicagoland.  That makes me cranky, but not literally because I haven’t been able to crank.. my mountain bike.  We are getting rain every day, so the trails are not drying out.  Arghhhh.  It means I have had to ride my (gasp) ROAD BIKE.

Alyssa, my 19 year old daughter, was only home from college for a week and a half.  I and Miriam drove her to her job as a summer camp counselor three weeks ago.  She trained for two weeks, just completed her first full week of camp as a counselor this week.  her first week was with junior high age girls.  She is good with that age group and the pictures she posted on FB yesterday were fabulous.  They had a great time.  My little girl rocks as a camp counselor.

Geez, do I miss my little girl.  I think I need her around more than ever right now.  Daughters love their dad, have stars in their eyes for their old pop.  There has never been a doubt about the encouragement she brings to me when I get to spend time with her.  I need that right now.

On the way home from driving Alyssa to her camp counseling job, I broke the news to Miriam.  I want a divorce.  I told her that I have already talked to a divorce mediator and want her to visit that mediator with me for a consult.  She will not agree, wants us to go back to counseling.  Mir called me a child, told me I am making a rash decision, told me that I have no grounds, questioned that I have even thought about the consequences a divorce will bring.  There were no tears on her part.  I wept while I listened to her.  At the end, she told me that I was going to find a counselor for us.

There have been several discussions since then, basically treading the same water we have been treading for roughly the last decade.  I realized that I have told her what has been bothering me for a long time, and she to me, and nothing has changed.  Right now, I am struggling with feeling the legitimacy of what she is telling me.  I hear excuses.  That bothers me.  I need to see where I have fallen and deal with that, see if it is possible to make that right.

And I want to leave.  I don’t see my wife taking me seriously at all.

Finally, I need to apologize to those who actually read my blog.  I have done a lot of complaining here.  This will be the last blog I am going to write here about my relationship struggles.  I do need to write them down, but not here.

I want to close tonight’s blog on a positive note, because there is a bit of positive right now.  It’s summer.  That means my now 16 year old son, who reached that milestone two weeks ago, is not stressing about school.  That conflict is gone for a few months.  It also means that he is not on his ADHD meds, so he is far less aggressive.  And this month has found him beginning to treat me like his father.  I am cautiously optimistic.. and wondering if I should risk rocking the boat by going forward with marriage separation.  Seems a bit selfish when I add him into the consideration.  We went to a baseball game at Wrigley last week, witnessed close up the incident where a father feeding his baby son stood up to catch a foul ball, interfering with the first baseman.  We are watching baseball together, talking and he is actually cooperating with me.  Miracles.  They may be short lived, but they are miracles.  He is listening to me, doing what I ask and when I ask.

Wait, what is that odd podlike structure in my back yard?

Shifted Priorities

There is not much that will keep me from riding my bicycle on the weekend.  Usually it has to either be severe weather or a family commitment.

Or yard work.

We all should be familiar with my obsession over lawn lines after my recent blog regarding that subject.  That obsession extends into the length of grass and not letting it grow beyond three days during the growing season.  This time of year is when it rains almost every day in Chicagoland.  The temperatures are consistently into the 80 and 90 degree range.  Everything grows to jungle proportions.  If I don’t mow my lawn every three days, I hear monkeys screeching in my yard.  I swear, it’s true.

The bushes in front of my house had grown so much that I practically had to climb on the roof of my two story house to trim them.  Grass had grown over the sidewalk, rendering the power edger almost useless, making a shovel the preferred method of taming the overgrowth.  A decorative vine next to the garage had ventured inside and was threatening to strangle me in my sleep.

Only it’s evil chuckle as it hovered over my sleeping form saved me, my trusty shears stored in my bed stand at the ready.  Today I am still bewildered as to how that nefarious vine slipped past the watchful eye of my faithful Sheltie.  Biscuit crumbs next to the door give me a good idea of how that happened.  Bribes work especially on Nick the Sheltie.

Five hours of intense yard labor, a necessary safety precaution, is what kept me from my bicycle on Saturday.  Soaked with sweat when finished, I retreated safely to the shower and then to the calm of a baseball game as I napped on the couch, an eye open in case the vine reanimated.

Sunday my son turned 16.  Escaping forever on my bicycle was the temptation when I awoke yesterday morning.  Instead, I reserved my energy for the day ahead.   Church.  Lunch with the boy and his mother.  An adventure in the passenger seat of his mother’s car as the new driver negotiated the busy streets of west Chicagoland (not as bad as it sounds.. but we left his mother to shop while we motored).  Fun shopping for baseball jerseys at a new fan apparel store.  Nine holes of twilight golf, a fantastic time with a boy who suddenly figured out it’s more fun to golf when relaxed.

No bike.  And it’s freaking pouring rain today.

The vine just texted me.  Uh oh.  Time to buy some Round Up and a squirt gun…..